Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Moving the marijuana

Published:Sunday | January 25, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

There is no shortage of pro-marijuana songs in Jamaican popular music. Still, it is an illegal substance - although one for which the law has been long applied inconsistently, even ahead of the current climate of a more relaxed approach to possession of a few ounces, while as a nation, we consider how far the United States is going to go and how quickly we should follow.

So smoking a spliff or bubbling a chillum pipe is one thing; getting the required greens to indulge in the practice is another. This is especially so in the urban areas, into which the marijuana has to be brought, as the quantities of pot planted in pots are simply not enough to satisfy demand. It is one of the many results of the wave of internal migration to the urban centres that has left many farmlands fallow at one end of the mass movement and tons of crammed tenement yards at the other.

Satisfy demand

Marijuana must find its market, though, and Jamaican popular music reflects this literal move to satisfy demand. Of course, it is not free flow, because the police are there, with every corner of a potential turn in the weed carriers' life for the definite worse.

It isn't surprising, then, that one of the more popular songs speaking about this movement involving the feared police presence. In Oh Mr DC, a song which he performed with a travelling bag slung over his shoulder (which Bongo Herman continues to do when he performs the song), the late Lincoln 'Sugar' Minott sings about his encounter with the law on the way back into 'town' with a load of herb. He sang:

"Coming from the country

With me bag of collie

I buck up on a DC

Him waan fi hold' me."

In the chorus of the song Minott pleads with the law officer, "oh DC don't you take my ishen." His reason for making the weed run is purely economic, Minott singing, "me children dying fi hunger/an I man a suffer."

Oh Mr DC is not Sugar Minot's only marijuana song, which centres around the rural-urban commercial connection. However, while Oh Mr DC speaks about an incident on the way into the city with the good stuff, Herbman Hustling starts from the other physical end of the trade, with the police inevitably involved:

"Herb a dis a herb man hustling

Bright and early in the morning

Herb a dis a herb man hustling

I know Sergeant where he is

waiting

Herb a dis a herb man hustling

I know it's my neck I'm risking

Herb a dis a herb man hustling

But you see that's my daily

living

Jumps in a minivan we gone a

country

Lef fi we wife an we hungry

pickney

We haffi travel over hills and

valley

Jus fi fin' dis ya good good

sensie."

Best marijuana parishes

Among the parishes touted in music to have the best marijuana are St Ann, St Elizabeth and Westmoreland. Buju Banton indicates a general direction as well as giving the shortened name for Westmoreland when he deejays, "riding west to get two pounds of chess" and Tony Curtis is heading in the same direction with his song, High Grade:

"Don't bring me no bush I

need the best

So if you cannot find me I will

be heading down a west."

In Puff It, I-Octane makes the west connection at the point of consumption in retail quantities, deejaying: "well de man tell me bout de bess from wes' when dem bring pon di corna/say dem wrap it inna 20, 50, 100 bag sell it on ya."

Then in 100 Weight of Collie Weed, Carlton Livingston is making the run into town from another parish highly reputed for providing a high. He sings:

"Get hustling

With a 100 weight of collie

weed

Coming from St Ann...

The speed limit was 35

Was doing 55

See a Babylon car

Draw out on me

We start to speed round corners

Just like we a daredevil

Couldn't keep up with me

Cause I was too hard...

Can't afford to get arrested

Lord I don't have no papers

on me..

The cops they set up roadblock

And man you know I just can't

stop

The cops they start to chase

Buss up some shot."

And then Livingston makes the connection with the demand at his destination for the 100 weight he is willing to run roadblocks and engage the police in high-speed chases for:

"The dreadlocks are waiting

in the city

Just to get a draw a me herb."

The mix of marijuana, road and police is in Bob Marley and the Wailers' Rebel Music (Three o'clock Roadblock). Although he does not explicitly establish a rural setting, he sings about 'open country', which would hardly be the city:

"Why can't we roam this open

country

Oh why can't we be what we

want to be

We want to be free

Three o'clock, roadblock, curfew

And I've got to throw away

my little herb stock."

And just like Livingston, Bob Marley is lacking documents, but he makes it a matter of personal papers in the memorable line, "hey Mr Cop, got no birth cerfitikit on me now."